Teachers as Leaders – How to improve school system

We all face this challenge one day or other – schools not only help our kids aspirations but they have considerable impact on the housing market as well. The following conversation shows how three teachers are taking the research pointers and applying it to the real world situations. The intent of the article is not blindly implement the cut off dates/ introduce the 10,000 hour rule. Its about thinking outside the box to bring in a challenging change. The article makes two points:

  1. Leaders build the capability to convert research/knowledge into pragmatic strategy
  2. Leaders don’t need a “big” title to bring in change. Title is a moot point when you are trying to bring in a change; Our brain is hardwired – only Managers/Senior Management will need to bring in change. In this article the teachers are trying to bring in a change. An amazing profession that deserves a standing ovation.

Philip moved around the living room impatiently while Donna, his wife, bustled about the kitchen getting some snacks ready. Soon their friends would be arriving. Their friendship happened over a period of time as they all lived in the same neighborhood and got together periodically to watch football. However, today’s get together was not for the usual fun but with a specific purpose. The last time they had gathered the talk had drifted to the depressing school results. All of them were good and dedicated teachers but all their innovative ideas and attempts did not seem to make much difference. Finally Philip had challenged everyone to research to find out how top performers were created and maybe they could come up with something that would work. Once they have solid strategy, they were planning on to presenting it to the school boards. Everyone was enthusiastic and today was the day everyone was to share their findings.

As usual John and Della were the first to arrive and within the next ten minutes everyone was present. In spite of the usual banter, there was an underlying air of seriousness and suppressed excitement. Philip kicked off the proceedings by asking, “Okay who wants to go first? How about you, John?” John nodded and set off. “I am afraid my findings do not seem very promising. I came across some research carried out on the players in the junior Canadian Hockey League. These players are selected from an early age and the talented ones are groomed carefully over the years and become the stars players later. On the face of it seems like only the talented players are selected. The research studied a range of characteristics ranging from height and weight to birth dates and hometown. The research discovered that the overwhelming proportion of the players was born between January and March.” Everyone looked surprised and sceptical. “Yes”, said Della and took over the thread. “The reason is that for each age group selection the cut-off date is 1st Jan and so a player born in early January will be in the same group as one who turns ten after 11 months in December and at an early age has a tremendous physical advantage over the younger player and with continued coaching and practice he becomes better and better and hence has a very good chance of getting selected into the higher levels” Della finished. “So this means that those born after March have lower or no chance of being selected- doesn’t it?” asked Edna. Yes them had a lesser opportunity “continued John, “but what if they had a selection for another track of players in June.  Then they could possibly have twice the number of talented players”. There was silence for a few moments as everyone absorbed this startling finding.

Fred jumped up. “I’ll go next. I came across a surprising finding also. The research I looked at focussed on the violinists who joined the prestigious Berlin Academy of Music. With help from professors they divided the violinists into three categories: the first were the potential stars, the second were good players and the third were those who were not likely to be successful as professionals. All the violinists were asked a series of questions. While most of them seemed to start at almost the same age but their weekly practice duration’s started differing over successive years. The topmost category gradually increased their practice hours till by the time they became twenty they had totaled around 10,000 hours of practice. The second group averaged around 8,000 hours while the third was around 4,000 hours. The researchers studied other artists like pianists and even chess players. The 10,000 hour rule seems to apply across the board.” “So if a person puts in this amount of heavy effort into his learning he is likely to reach higher levels” observed Philip.

“The research I read focused on students” said Karen as she stood up to talk. “Annette Lareau “ she continued “and her team selected 12 students from third grade. They came from poor and wealthy homes and were both black and white. The team interviewed the family members and observed them for several weeks. One would have expected to find widely variant parenting styles. But the researchers found that the wealthy families raised their kids one way while all the poor families raised them a different way. The wealthy parents were constantly aware of their child’s activities and got involved to ensure their child was able to get into programs he or she wanted and do not give up their efforts easily. The poor parents, on the other hand, were not aware of their child’s progress in school, activities, or interests and were too timid to talk to the teachers to ensure their child got into activities of her interest”.  “So parental involvement, even when it seems excessive, is a key factor in the successful development of the child” she concluded.

“So let us summarize’ said Philip. “John’s research suggests that any form of selection seems to exclude other potential winners. Fred has found that a heavy workload is doable and leads people to higher levels of performance.  Finally, Karen asserts that the family needs to be involved continuously in the child’s progress if he or she is to excel”. “I think we have had some excellent discussions. I believe we can put these ideas to work to help us find a way to help school children to academic success and set them on the road to economic well being”.  Let us think about how to get these into a practical model. We can discuss this in our next get together which will be in Karen and Harris’s home I believe”. Harris picked up the piece of pita bread with tinge of hummus and train of thoughts were running swiftly through his mind; “Why are most of the Asians good in Math” Is that a perception or reality ….

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